If you frequently read texts from specialized journals, this is nothing new: Articles generally begin not directly with the introduction, but with an abstract, which functions as a short summary. This gives readers to opportunity to find out briefly what questions the authors deal with and what their findings are. Readers can thus quickly find out whether the text is relevant to their interests.
Essentially, an abstract serves the same purpose as an introduction: It clarifies expectations, identifies the reference problem, sketches the results, and explains the methodological approach. The crucial difference is that abstracts are significantly shorter than introductions. The editors of the _Zeitschrift für Soziologie_, for instance, expect a summary of no more than 120 words (external link).
It is generally not obvious that instructors expect you to submit an abstract to precede the text of a term paper, Bachelor’s thesis or Master’s thesis. However, we recommend writing a summary of this kind, approximately 100 to 150 words long. The main purpose is to monitor your own progress. Writing an abstract will show that you are able to say what you found out in your paper briefly and succinctly.
A technical suggestion: First mark in your final text those five to six key sentences or key passages in which you formulated the core messages of your paper. Copy these sentences or passages in the order in which they appear into a first draft abstract, ideally one after the other. Now rework this first draft to creat a meaningful summary that characterizes your work in terms of content and methods.
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Marcus Fiebig of the Writing Center at the University of Lüneburg offers additional step-by-step suggestions on how to formulate a meaningful abstract: external link